New York City College Agrees to Reforms after Sexual Harassment Investigation

CUNYSexual harassment remains a pervasive problem in workplaces in New York City and throughout the country. Employment statutes prohibit sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination, but this only applies when a complainant’s relationship to their alleged harasser is based on employment. Other laws apply in non-employment situations in which a power imbalance makes it difficult to push back against sexual harassment. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq., addresses discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment, in educational institutions. Late last year, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) announced that it had reached a resolution in a sexual harassment policy dispute with an institution belonging to the City University of New York (CUNY) system. In re CUNY, Hunter Coll., No. 02-13-2052, resolution agmt. (DOE, Oct. 31, 2016).

Title IX prohibits sex discrimination by “educational institutions,” which it defines to include both public and private schools, from preschools through colleges and universities. 20 U.S.C. § 1681(c). The statute only applies to educational institutions that receive federal assistance, although this covers a substantial number of schools around the country. Much like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX does not expressly mention sexual harassment as a type of sex discrimination. The Supreme Court has held that the statute authorizes lawsuits for sexual harassment and the recovery of monetary damages. See, e.g., Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools, 503 U.S. 60 (1992).

Employers who are subject to Title VII are required to investigate claims of sexual harassment and to make reasonable efforts to remedy situations in which it has occurred. Failing to do so exposes them to liability to the aggrieved employee. Title IX is more specific, setting guidelines for educational institutions to establish “grievance procedures” and to designate a “responsible employee” to address complaints. 34 C.F.R. § 106.8. They must also follow specific procedures to notify current students, applicants for admission, parents of minor students, employees, and others of these policies and procedures. Id. at § 106.9.

The DOE’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) initiated an investigation of Hunter College (HC) after it received a complaint in December 2012 about how HC handled a report of alleged sexual harassment by a professor. The complainant reportedly stated that she had filed a complaint with HC regarding a professor in August 2011, but HC failed to “respond appropriately.” She further alleged that the college retaliated against her by preventing her from registering for classes for the fall 2012 semester, and it rescinded an earlier offer to modify a payment plan for her outstanding tuition bill.

The OCR determined that HC had fulfilled its obligation to designate a responsible employee, but it had not adequately complied with the regulations regarding the development of a nondiscrimination policy and the notification of students and others about the policy. It also found that the college had failed to provide adequate notice identifying the responsible employee and providing contact information. The resolution agreement between the OCR and HC set timelines for the implementation of a nondiscrimination policy, as well as other steps to bring the school into compliance with the regulations.

At Phillips & Associates, our knowledgeable and experienced sexual harassment lawyers advocate for employees, job seekers, and former employees in New York City, representing them in claims based on unlawful workplace practices like sex discrimination and sexual harassment. Contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team.

More Blog Posts:

Report Highlights Sexual Harassment in Medical Schools, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 10, 2016

Lawsuit by Student Accuses Academic Coach of Sexual Harassment, New York Employment Attorney Blog, March 17, 2016

Lawsuit Against New York College Alleges Sexual Harassment Under Title IX, New York Employment Attorney Blog, December 31, 2015

Photo credit: Beyond My Ken (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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